Qualifying Report: Weather: Windy, cooler, dry. The weather we had been promised had materialized but then vanished again, and now it looked as if it might be coming on to rain, which would be a bit of a pain for the drivers involved in the ...
Weather: Windy, cooler, dry.
The weather we had been promised had materialized but then vanished again, and now it looked as if it might be coming on to rain, which would be a bit of a pain for the drivers involved in the replacement Round 4 (so that would be everyone except Fortec Motorsport's Marcus Marshall). Meanwhile there was a qualifying session to be got through, preferably without any further yellow flag infractions.
Karun Chadhok (T-Sport) was out first, and therefore was the man to set the early pace, with a decent enough lap time (1:03.998). However, Lucas di Grassi (Hitech Racing) seemed keen to make his mark on this session, banging in a fastest first sector time, but he lost time in the second sector, ending up 4th overall, only to get shoved down another place by James Rossiter (Fortec Motorsport). Nelson A Piquet (Piquet Sports) was showing signs of being back on form, after his recent dismal run of races, and was 2nd already, ahead of Marshall. He then proceeded to go even faster, and ended his next lap ahead of everyone, despite a flyer from Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) that rocketed him up the order to 2nd place, and an improvement from di Grassi. That all changed when Rossiter found a faster time, though it soon looked as if Chandhok might be able to take pole back - however, that prospect evaporated and he stayed right were he was, although it was a better time.
Things briefly became a little weird, however, when suddenly James Walker (Hitech Racing) appeared at the top of the table, although it go a little less weird when his teammate Andrew Thompson displaced him. But only a little. Clearly that wouldn't last. However, the Hitech cars were looking pretty good at that stage, with di Grassi getting between the two of them to make a temporary Hitech top 3. Trevor Carlin would probably kill for that at the moment.
It got rather more normal shortly after, as Piquet took the pole position back, with Thompson and Asmer just behind him. In 4th now was Fairuz Fauzy (Menu Motorsport), the Malaysian looking convincing behind the wheel for the first time since pre-season testing. Unfortunately, that meant that the balance in the team seemed to have tipped away from Will Davison, who was enduring another thoroughly miserable practice session, and was stuck down in 11th. The fact that Will Power (Alan Docking Racing) was now in 2nd wouldn't have helped improve Davo's mood, and only served to bolster our theory that there are too many Australians and not enough luck to go round at present.
Meanwhile, back in the Scholarship Class, Stephen Jelley (Performance Racing) was on pole, which made a change. Usually that position falls to Ryan Lewis (T-Sport), but maybe Jelley is finally going to give him a run for his money. One can always hope, since at the moment it is very boring for both the spectators and it's also probably pretty dull for Lewis. He needs someone to fight with; right now he hasn't got anyone. The only other likely candidate would be Barton Mawer (Performance Racing), but he was in too much pain from a badly swollen hand to pose much of a threat to anyone.
And in the Championship Class things got weird again. Fauzy shot to pole, ahead of Piquet, Rossiter, Power, Thompson and Asmer, and then Walker weighed in to snatch 3rd. This was definitely not a normal day at the office.
Someone else going surprisingly well was Danny Watt (Promatecme F3), the Lola-Dome seemingly well-suited to this circuit. He was taking it steady but was already 7th. A determined effort saw him set the fastest time of the session, which must had pleased everyone involved in the project, even though there was still close to half the session left to run.
Additionally, we hadn't seen the best from Ernesto Viso or Adam Carroll, the P1 drivers both emerging from the pitlane very late in the session. That meant that they were out on a relatively clear track, whilst most of the others were in for tyre changes and adjustments. On a track as short as this, never underestimate the value - or the difficulty - of getting a lap or two in traffic-free conditions. At this stage, though, it was looking as if they might regret that late start, as Carroll was 23rd and last, and Viso wasn't much further up the order.
While Power slipped down to 10th, and Piquet to 7th (prompting a pit stop for the Brazilian), Thompson got himself into a spin at the Bombhole, but was able to rejoin after he managed to reorient himself. And then - as the weather suddenly cooled noticeably - the improvements started to come, so much so that Piquet was 17th by the time he re-emerged from the pits with it all to do. The flurry of activity lasted as long as the Avon tyres, which meant that things started to settle now.
Chandhok was now 8th, while his ex-teammate Clivio Piccione (Carlin Motorsport) was now 3rd, which made you think that just maybe his head was back where it should be. However, there were a number of problems for him to contend with, and he wasn't alone in that. People skittering into the dirt were finding that the ground was littered with small, sharp flints, which tended to do their tyres no good at all. Worse, these were now scattered liberally round the race track too, chucked around when people returned from the dirt. It caused a number of people no end of problems - especially Will Davison for some reason - and the situation was not helped by the fact that Lewis in particular seemed to be ridiculously attracted to the gravel at the Bombhole. In fact, he seemed to prefer it to the track.
Carroll was improving his times slowly, while di Grassi leaped from 14th straight to pole, a time of 1:02.050, slower than we'd seen in the morning, and just a fragment faster than Watts and Fauzy. All of this meant that Asmer was now back down to 7th while Marshall was 8th, an improvement on their averages so far this year. Davison was now even more depressed looking, in a woeful 15th, though he was still ahead of Carroll in 16th. And just when it looked as if they were all going to behave this time, Thompson went wide at the Bombhole and Kahn went off at Sear. A brief yellow flag period was followed closely by red and everyone returned to the pitlane to wait for the mess to be cleared away.
The order now was di Grassi, from Watts, Fauzy, Piccione, Thompson, Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport), Asmer, Viso, Walker and Piquet. In 11th was Chandhok, ahead of Rossiter, Power, Danilo Dirani (Carlin Motorsport), Davison and Carroll. Jelley was still on Scholarship Class pole, from Lewis, with Marshall as an interloper, ahead of Adam Khan (Alan Docking Racing), Mawer, Vasilije Calasan (Promatecme F3) and Ajit Kumar (Mango Racing).
At the restart, with about 10 minutes left, Chandhok was back out almost immediately. Meanwhile Davison was being pushed back out after his second puncture of the session. Fauzy and Chandhok were the first to appear in an attempt to get a good time on a clear track. It didn't seem to help either of them much. Someone else in need of help was Calasan, the Frenchman taking increasingly wild lines through the Bombhole and clearly ignoring everything his driver coach, Bruce Jouanny, had told him.
Rossiter was now a man on a mission, and was up to 5th, while Carroll wrestled his way into the top 10. Rossiter's progress, however, was hampered when he spun at Coram. He sorted himself out eventually and got on his way, but that meant more of the evil little flints everywhere. Hopefully, no-one would fall foul of them.
The real surprise came when Asmer wrested pole away from di Grassi, even as the air cooled further, making faster times likely. Piquet was back in the hunt, and was now 3rd, while Fauzy was an unprecedented 5th. Dirani had hauled himself up to 9th while di Grassi grabbed pole back only to lose it to Carroll. Walker had slipped down to an altogether more normal 14th, while Rossiter was now 4th. And then Davison went off, as did Jelley.
The yellow flags being waved at Riches should have put an end to any further improvements, but just as in the morning, they didn't, Rossiter grabbing pole in the closing minutes by a tenth of a second from Carroll. There were no other improvements, as most of the other drivers appear to respect the yellow flags. Needless to say, after what had happened in the morning session, there was an outbreak of protests afterwards, but in his usual manner, our Clerk of the Course elected to do nothing about Rossiter. As a result, the paddock was a seething mass of ill-feeling, most of it directed at the man in the red number 7 car. None of this is healthy, for a number of reasons, not least the fact that decisions like this send a message to the others that says you can ignore yellow flags. And what will happen when someone is injured or worse when they do ignore the flags? Especially as it's likely that that someone will be one of the unpaid, unsung volunteer marshals without whom we wouldn't actually have a sport.
By: Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite